Saturday, April 14, 2007

Remembering Tragedy at Ford's Theater

Ford's Theater

142 years ago today President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while watching a play at Ford's Theater. After the attack Lincoln briefly survived but passed away early the next day across the street at the Peterson House.

Ford's Theater has been the site of many styles of remembrance. After the attack it was purchased by the government and amusing activities. It was rotated between office and warehouse for decades. In 1893 part of the building collapsed and 22 people died in the incident with many more people injured. The former theater's past was constantly forgotten as the building was put to different uses. It appeared that everyone wanted to forget the ills which had occurred there.

The Peterson House

When Lincoln was murdered he was not a popular president. Therefore there was little remembrance of him on the landscape. As time passed; however, views of Lincoln became more positive and memorialization occurred. In 1896 the Peterson House was federally recognized as "House Where Lincoln Died" and was transfered over to federal control in the 1930s.

Ford's Theater itself remained in disrepair. Attitudes towards the theater changed around the centennial of Lincoln's reign. President Eisenhower authorized federal action to preserve Ford's Theater and congress finally approved funds for the restoration in 1967. Ford's Theater opened up as national historic site in 1968. Plays began to start up again soon afterwards. The first play done was "John Brown's Body" which summed up the emotions of the 1860s.

The Ford's Theater complex shows different styles of memorialization. Peterson's House has a walk-through tour. The tour shows the bedroom with the bed that Lincoln died in. The second main room is the living room where various cabinet secretaries debated and discussed what needs to be done. The house has been frozen in time.

Lincoln's Box

Ford's Theater has a dual nature. The actual theater is kept in a very similar style to the way it was the night Lincoln was assassinated. Lincoln's Box is kept the same with a portrait of Washington hanging just like it was on April 14, 1865. As a tribute to Lincoln the box is closed to the public. Most importantly though, the theater room continues its intended use by still having plays.

The basement; however, has become a shrine to Lincoln. The Olroyd Collection of Lincolniana has donated many pieces of memorabilia of the assassination for visitors to observe. The basement has been sanctified to Lincoln's cult.

The Christmas Carol is a yearly tradition. Life goes on at Ford's Theater.

Ford's Theater is a marvelous place to visit. It is an island of history, in an archipelago of gentrification, in a ghetto sea. The complex itself has three cultures to it: frozen in time, enshrining, and continued use. Death at the Peterson House, remembrance in the basement, and continuation of life in the theater. Each one in its own way creates a mosaic to remember Lincoln and that horrible Good Friday.

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